Striking Stop & Shop workers headed into their sixth day of picketing and negotiations with management today as part of an unprecedented strike, according to WPRI. The unionized workers at the New England supermarket chain are fighting for maintaining health benefits and pay raises. The strike was spurred by what they consider an unfair contract offered by management.
“We really thought that we could come to some agreement,” Elena Tainsh, a Stop & Shop worker, told WPRI. “We’re not asking for outrageous things, clearly. We want a decent retirement and we’d like to have affordable health coverage.”
“Every single one of us is petrified because we’re not getting paid,” Tanish added. “We will get a minor stipend from the union but most people cannot live on $100 a week.”
Some Stop & Shop stores have been closed during the strike, while others are operating with temp workers.
Stop & Shop management says that the union is misrepresenting their contract.
“Stop & Shop’s comprehensive offer provides pay increases for all associates, excellent health coverage with deductibles that would not change, increased contributions to the employee pension plans and no changes in paid time off or holidays for current associates,” Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan has said in a statement.
“It also does this while maintaining a responsible balance in rewarding our associates, protecting jobs and serving our customers in a dramatically changing, mostly non-union environment,” he added.
But workers with the United Food & Commercial Workers union say that rising health insurance premiums mean that their take-home pay would not increase.
Workers say that customers have largely avoided crossing the picket line during the strike. But as negotiations drag on, they are concerned about their paychecks and future.
“I’ve been working paycheck-to-paycheck my entire life. I depend on this job,” Shaunna Beck, who has worked at Stop & Shop for ten years, told WPRI. “I’m so worried right now. I can’t sleep—I’m stressed out.”
But Stop & Shop is also losing money, particularly in the profitable week leading up to Passover and Easter.
“If the strike lasts through tomorrow and Friday, we estimate that Stop & Shop will have lost $20 million in the first week and first weekend,” Burt Flickinger, a consumer and labor history analyst, told WPRI.
This is already by far the longest strike in Stop & Shop’s history.
“We went through our records at Cornell University. The longest strike in Stop & Shop’s history only lasted four hours in 1988,” Flickinger said.
Today, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, attended a UFCW rally for the strike in Boston.
“Bankers, Wall Street and CEOs didn’t build this country. You did!” Biden said at the rally.